Where Have They Gone?

He came every morning with vegetables from Vasai. White-going-cream- dhoti hitched at the knees, black waistcoat, nondescript grey shirt-kurta, a trademark black cap and a wily, toothy grin. At my grandmum’s bidding, I would go with a little cloth bag and a few rupees in my tiny fist. And I would come back with Introduction to Finance , Beginner’s Guide to Commerce and Bargaining for Dummies, all rolled into one. I don’t remember his name. I don’t think any of us actually knew it. For us, he was simply Vasaiwalla.

They came on Saturdays and sometimes on holidays, with similar, grungy sarees and identical expressionless faces. You could tell they had arrived when the noise began. Thud, thud, thud. Slow, rhythmic beats, as large stone pestles hit even larger stone mortars. Thud, thud, thud. Dried red chillies crushed to red dust that would bring tears to many an eye. Thud, thud, thud. It was hard, tiring work so it was just as well that they worked in twos. Thud, thud, thud. I never knew where the pestles and the mortars came from or where they went when the women were done. I didn’t even realise they were gone till years later, when it struck me that Saturdays had suddenly gone silent.

The surest way to spot him was by the large white bundle on his back. When opened, his treasures would unfurl on various middle-class living room floors. Stiff cotton sarees that spoke of simplicity. Rich silk fabric that whispered its understated luxury. All the way from Calcutta, madam. Won’t find such patterns here, madam. Very good quality, madam. Last piece in this design, madam. How many sarees he sold – nobody knows. His bundle certainly never seemed any smaller. Till one day when it disappeared from the middle-class landscape altogether.

5 thoughts on “Where Have They Gone?

  1. slightly myopic they and all thier kin are still all around , in mumbai the middle class has shifted slightly up. but the retail giants are no different and you may still find the Vasaiwals in some mall some day.pardon the spellings and happy the holi!


  2. very nice!…. a fitting tribute to “the landscape” of a changing con-zoom-er driven india.this article of yours may fit nicely into an urban design reader on mumbai..:)


  3. Neville: Wow, you must’ve really liked it to comment under your own name 🙂Anonymous: The mall junta is quite different in its spirit from the vasaiwallas and their ilk. There’s a simplicity that’s been replaced by materialism.Jun: Spoken like a true architect 🙂Mystique: Thanks… again 🙂


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